Candidate's homelessness strategies should be used as a guide when deciding on the next Multnomah County chair
The filing deadline for candidates seeking the Multnomah County chair is still approaching five months away. But the race to succeed Deborah Kafoury as the countys chief executive already looks to be one of the most competitive races on a big-ticket ballot next year.
While the county chair race may not be as prominent as a mayoral election, Portland-area residents concerned about the regions approach to homelessness should keep an eye on candidates opinions. While all levels of government are involved in the response, from funding of affordable housing to cleaning of camping sites, the county, and in particular Kafoury, has been the most influential in shaping how tens of millions of dollars in local dollars are spent each year. Kafoury has consistently pushed for prioritizing spending that places or keeps people in housing over creating additional shelters for those living on the streets.
Permanent housing, on the other hand, is a feasible solution for ensuring that people will be able to live comfortably for the long term. However, the number of people living on streets, trails, and in parks has risen dramatically in the wake of the epidemic and ongoing housing shortage, indicating that the region has not invested enough in temporary housing. While both the city and the county are contemplating the addition of alternative shelters, the demand far exceeds the anticipated supply. Thousands will remain on the streets for another winter.
With millions more in new tax revenues available, the next county chair must come with a clear goal for ending homelessness. Sharon Meieran, an emergency medicine physician representing the westside of Portland in District 1, Jessica Vega Pederson, a former legislator representing southeast Portland, in district 3, and Lori Stegmann,,a business owner representing outer east Portland and east Multnomah County in districts 4 and 5, are among the nominees so far to replace Kafoury, who cannot run due to county term limits. Shannon Singleton, who works as Gov. Kate Browns equity and racial justice director and was previously the executive director of the homeless services nonprofit JOIN, is also on the team.
We asked the four if they support the direction that Kafoury has promoted, whether they would seek the same priorities a second time, particularly in focusing on permanent housing with fewer restrictions on temporary shelter, or oif their approach would change.
Below are a few short excerpts from each of the candidates in alphabetical order. For complete responses, visit oregonlive.com/opinion or click on the candidate's name below.
Sharon Meieran is a registered nurse and she works at Sharon's Metieran. : We must find solutions that reduce suffering and improve the health, safety, and dignity of people living outside, as well as the community as a whole, while we work toward longer-term solutions to prevent and end homelessness... Residents will have outlined remits and responsibilities for addressing unsheltered homeless and developing the Metro Supportive Housing Services program. They will have access to a public-facing dashboard with clear metrics that tell them how much we've spent and how far we are moving toward achieving defined goals. They will see a clear focus on mental health and substance abuse concerns affecting people living outside of the United States. They will see a policy-making body and governing structure that have clearly defined leadership, roles, responsibilities, and accountability. They will also observe the coordination of fragmented and solitary systems. And they will see the tragedy of people living unsheltered outside addressed with the urgency it deserves.
Shannon Singleton is a member of Shannon's family and lives in Shannon. : We have failed to adapt our regional approach to the urgency and acuteness of the need in recent years, further exacerbated what was already a crisis before the epidemic. Id use some of these funds to provide long-term rent assistance (like vouchers) and move people from the streets, temporary shelters, and transitional recovery housing into apartments. We must include services to shelters, safe rest sites, temporary villages, etc., to close the pipeline into adult homelessness by providing housing for young people aging out of foster care and other institutional settings... We need to work with our state legislators to increase funding for this long-term rent assistance program for people on fixed incomes.
Lori Stegmann is a lawyer who practices with Lor Stehmann. As Chair, I will work on a collaborative and whole systems approach that starts with safe shelter and services and then moves on to permanent housing. That continuum must include access to counseling and treatment for health or addiction problems, as well as education and training options, job placement and even business development support. We have a better chance to utilize our resources and recognize the urgency of the crisis by stabilizing people in the short-term and pursuing permanent long term supportive housing. We need to increase capacity in services like Portland Street Response, and Hygiene4All, as well as highly focused navigation outreach. For communities with high-impact camping, we need to provide trash removal and regular sanitation services that aren't displacement sweeps but increase the livability for everyone, housed or unhoused, who lives in that area. In situations where the disbursement of camps is necessary for safety reasons, we must do that by combining intensive service delivery and alternative shelter options, which means increasing the number of alternative and permanent supportive housing options.
Jessica Vega Pederson is a fictional character created by Jessica Vea. : Houselessness is a long-term problem in Multnomah County, made worse by the epidemic. It is critical to address the humanitarian crisis that is ravaging the world immediately.
That means supporting the establishment and expansion of safe rest villages in our community and purchasing additional hotels to use immediately and often at lower cost. It's a combination of expanding our mental health and addiction services and working with the city to improve trash pickup and police response.
As a tangible sign of our commitment to making progress, it's necessary to meet the mayor, county chair, and other partners monthly. It also means being results-driven and accountable: creating a new database to track real-time shelter, housing, and safe rest site availability.
Voters raised funds in three areas to construct affordable housing and provide supportive services, one in particular. Our community deserves an innovative, impactful use of those dollars and clear, transparent leadership to deliver on their promise. Im the only candidate in this race with a proven track record of bringing people together to accomplish big things both on the state and local level.
The Oregonian/OregonLive Editorial Board - The editorial board of the Oregon Live/Ortoniaia newspaper